US Army Private and whistleblower Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison and dishonorably discharged Wednesday for revealing secret information on American military activity.
In a two-minute announcement of the verdict, military judge Colonel Denise Lind told Manning “you are sentenced to 35 years and ordered to be dishonorably discharged.”
Manning’s sentence will receive a 1,293 day discount for time already served.
Lind delivered her verdict after a months-long trial for Manning, who transferred a massive cache of classified government documents to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website headed by Julian Assange.
The 25-year-old soldier was convicted of espionage and other crimes last month, having earlier admitted being the source of hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and confidential US diplomatic cables.
Military prosecutors on Monday pressed for a 60-year prison term for Manning, arguing that the penalty would send a message to people contemplating the theft of classified information.
Lead defense attorney David Coombs, however, appealed for leniency for his client. He said Manning had expressed remorse, cooperated with the court and deserved a chance to have a family and one day walk free.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) deplored the verdict, British newspaper The Guardian reported.
“A legal system that doesn’t distinguish between leaks to the press in the public interest and treason against the nation will not only produce unjust results, but will deprive the public of critical information that is necessary for democratic accountability,” the ACLU statement read. “This is a sad day for Bradley Manning, but it’s also a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate.”
Manning was stationed in a US military base near Baghdad when the junior intelligence analyst handed over the data – about 700,000 documents – to WikiLeaks.
The most notorious breach was a video and audio file, dubbed “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, showing graphic cockpit footage of two US Apache attack helicopters opening fire and killing 12 people in Baghdad in 2007.
The soldier was arrested in Iraq in 2010 and has been in military custody since.
A United Nations rapporteur on torture who investigated Manning’s living conditions in prison accused the American government last year of cruel and inhumane treatment comparable to torture.
According to the report, Manning was allegedly put in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day during the 11-months spent detained in the Quantico Marine base.
A hero to supporters who hail the leaks having lifted the lid on America’s foreign policy, Manning was found guilty of 20 of the 22 charges in the trial.
Manning was, however, cleared of the most serious charge – “aiding the enemy,” chiefly al-Qaeda. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for Manning’s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Underlining the seriousness of the case, the US government painted him as a reckless traitor whose actions put his country at danger.
Manning also apologized. “I’m sorry that my actions have hurt people and have hurt the United States,” the soldier told Lind during a hearing last week.
Manning’s sentencing is considered especially important as another leaker – former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, currently in Russia – is wanted in the United States on espionage charges, having disclosed details of the National Security Agency’s secret electronic monitoring operations.